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July 24, 2014

Transaction Analysis

Tigers Bullpen Gets Less Sorry

by R.J. Anderson and Jordan Gorosh

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Joakim Soria from the Rangers in exchange for RHPs Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson. [7/23]

Despite Dave Dombrowski's best efforts last winter, the Tigers bullpen has again proved problematic. His attempts at remedies—Joe Nathan, Ian Krol, Joel Hanrahan, and Joba Chamberlain—have failed to, respectively, secure the ninth inning, replace Drew Smyly as a shutdown southpaw, recover from Tommy John surgery, and maintain acceptable grooming habits. And so Dombrowski—always willing to leverage his farm system to better his big-league club through trades—opted to go outside the organization for relief help once more. This time by acquiring the best closer available.

Soria has authored a fantastic season thus far, no matter the measure. His ERA shines, his strikeout-to-walk ratio dazzles, and he passes the eye test as a dominant, if not overpowering reliever. Soria succeeds not by pumping upper-90s heat past hitters, but by commanding a low-90s fastball and an assortment of secondary offerings. His aggression within the strike zone forces batters to swing at pitches they'd rather not, and his intelligence sees him sequence in ways that leaves those swings empty.

As an added bonus, Soria's contract contains a club option worth $7 million (not including some potential incentives) for next season. So Dombrowski, if he wishes, could keep his newest reliever around. But that's a conversation for another time. More pressing now is how long Nathan can keep Soria away from the ninth inning. All indications are that Soria will join the Tigers as a set-up man for the time being. Still, Dombrowski didn't acquire a career closer to stand by while the blown saves pile up. Unless Nathan returns to his old ways, don't be surprised when Soria takes over the closing gig.

The question we're left to ponder is whether Dombrowski is done adding to the bullpen. The unit has the fifth-worst ERA in baseball, and features just two pitchers who have an ERA+ of 100 or better over 20 or more appearances. Yes, ERA can deceive, especially over small samples, but most of the Tigers' relievers have the shaky peripherals to match. If Dombrowski is serious about upgrading his club's weakest links before October, and there's no reason to believe he isn't, then expect the Tigers to snag another relief arm between now and the deadline. —R.J. Anderson

Fantasy Impact

Joe Nathan
While initial word from Brad Ausmus has Nathan keeping the job—and by pitching better of late he's earned this stay of execution—Soria will clearly pose much more of a threat than Chamberlain ever did. Outside of one three-run hiccup against Cleveland last week, Nathan hasn't allowed a run in July, but he has to be on high alert to keep the hiccups to a minimum at this point. It's unclear how quickly Ausmus might turn to Soria if Nathan continues his underperformance, but at this point in the season, here's guessing the leash will be rather short.

Joakim Soria
It's really unfortunate for Soria owners right now, as one of the best fantasy closers this year is now relegated (at least temporarily) to a set-up role. However, his owners would be wise to hang tight and reserve him for now. Nathan is clearly not the Nathan of old and the price the front office was willing to pay for Soria should say everything you need to know about what they think he's capable of. If I'm putting money on it, Soria gets more saves than Nathan the rest of the way, but it may be a few weeks before he gets his first one.

Joba Chamberlain
If you were stashing him in leagues that don't count holds, you can let him go at this point. He even gets pushed down in leagues that do count holds since Tigers starters tend to go deep into games. —Bret Sayre

TEXAS RANGERS
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Acquired RHPs Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson from the Tigers in exchange for RHP Joakim Soria. [7/23]

The Tigers farm system isn't exactly flush with high-ceiling talent, and Thompson and Knebel is a hefty price to pay for a reliever, even one as excellent as Soria. Right now, Thompson may have been the best pitching prospect in Detroit's system, and he may work his way onto the back end of the BP 101 this offseason—or at least warrant some consideration. As recently as yesterday, I penned a piece on Thompson's development. In addition, I wrote an eyewitness scouting report. He has the ingredients to be a very strong no. 4 starter, with the potential for two solid-average offerings and another plus pitch.

Knebel has been in Detroit for two separate stints this year, but he's struggled to throw strikes. The right-hander from Texas has a mid-90s fastball and a hammer curve that misses bats with regularity. He's got all of the ingredients to be a late innings reliever, and, luckily for Texas, one that's under control for the rest of the decade.

Two #texans are returning home, and for the Rangers, that's a very strong haul for a reliever they signed coming off Tommy John surgery in time for the 2013 season. —Jordan Gorosh

Fantasy Impact

Neftali Feliz
Confidence shouldn't be at an all-time high with Feliz, but here was Ron Washington's post-trade quote about him: "We'll give him a shot, he is the only one with experience. It will show if he can or he can't." It really hasn't been all that long since Feliz was closing down games in the World Series, so he certainly could run with the job (despite the low strikeout totals thus far in 2014). However, there's likely more value attached to his name right now than his performance warrants.

Corey Knebel
It looks like Knebel will start out in Triple-A Round Rock, but it shouldn't be long before he gets called up. With little internal competition, Knebel could establish himself as a closer candidate in 2015.

Jake Thompson
Any time you can move from an organization that has a full rotation for the near future to one that has been ravaged by injuries and uncertainty (and has been starting Miles Mikolas and Nick Tepesch), it's a positive move. Whether it's slight or more significant will depend on what the Rangers do this offseason. —Bret Sayre


R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Jordan Gorosh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jordan's other articles. You can contact Jordan by clicking here

4 comments have been left for this article.

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